Expose of the Knights of the Golden Circle - Member Knight

Chapter VII.
Operations and Stratagems of the K.G.C.

The Bombardment of Fort Sumter—its Effect upon the Border States—Agents of the K.G.C. at work—their cool reception in Southern Indiana and Illinois—Gag law and Mob rule—Prentice, Guthrie, Johnson, and Brownlow classed as "Hard-Shells"—the manner in which proselytes are made—the Candidate in the Ante-room—the "Preliminary Degrees," their Forms, Symbols, and Oaths—the "Outer Temple"—its initiatory ceremonies—the Outside Designs of the Order—how Conventions, Legislatures, and Elections are controlled—"Knights' Safety Guards" and "Knights Gallant"—Southern Ladies sent North as Spies—Plans to destroy Property at the North—Northern Sympathizers.

The battle at Fort Sumter had, to a considerable extent, the effect in the Border States that the secession leaders desired it should. Virginia was, by the villainous acts of the Knights, declared out of the Union, as was likewise Arkansas and Tennessee, and it was fully expected that every remaining Southern State would soon follow, for without all of them it was not hoped to make a successful attack on Washington. It was also confidently expected, from the representations of Northern men, that their section would be greatly divided in sentiment, and that much assistance might be looked for in that direction. It is not to be wondered at "that they should have expected succor from the North, when, up to the very day of Lincoln's proclamation, such influential men as the Hon. Mr. B__, and H__, of Indiana, the Hon. Mr. V__, of Ohio, and other equally prominent men had promised that thousands of men in the North "would help the South, if the South would help herself." This latter quotation I take from the speech of an Indiana State Senator, made in Kentucky but a few days before the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Said Honorable has since renounced "the faith" and gone over to the side of the Union. Many others have "gone and done likewise." Hope their repentance is genuine, and that they will "bring forth fruits meet for repentance."

About this time, agents were sent into all the border Slave and Free States to stir up the Southern feeling, assist in the convocation of Secession Conventions, and do all they could in the promotion of that outside pressure which is indispensable to secession everywhere. The first thing for these agents to do, was to institute castles wherever a sufficient number of the friends of "Southern Rights" could be called together for the purpose. Those delegated to Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Virginia, etc., reported favorably; but those who visited Southern Indiana and other Northern border States, found the soil and climate very unfavorable, not only to the growth of secession sprouts, but to their own personal comfort. To their great mortification, they saw that no man north of the Ohio river was willing to tie the portion of the state in which he lived to the tail end of the rattlesnake, or fight under the flag of three stripes and seven stars. Whenever one of these Southern agents came in contact with a native Northern Knight, he was immediately advised that the "Abolitionists" had the whole North, and that it was even inimical to one's individual well-being to say anything indicating sympathy with Jeff Davis. The result was that they left in great disgust.

Meanwhile, the Northern Secessionists found the Union, or, as they term it, "Abolition" feeling, growing so strong that they were denied the "liberty of speech" and were forced to content themselves with stretching their countenances, drawing long sighs, and deploring "the condition of the country." The knowledge of the fact that the whole North, with its superior population and wealth, was a unit in defense of the Union; that Southern Indiana and Illinois would not "secede" and go with the rattlesnake government; that not a corporal's guard of men could be found in any Northern State who would fight under any other than the old flag; that many hitherto staunch Knights in the North were withdrawing from their castles, some of them even enlisting in the United States service, and that, consequently, they had been most grossly deceived respecting the status of Northern affairs—I say, a consciousness of these facts did more to retard the progress of rebellion than anything else for the time. A vigorous attempt would have been immediately made after the battle at Sumter to capture the United States' Capital but for the said reverse the cause of disunion had met with in the great North.

But the chagrin experienced in consequence of their unexpected disappointment in the Free States, only nerved the K.G.C. to more powerful efforts in the South. Castles were built up at every little town and cross-roads where one dozen of the faithful could be mustered. In every locality where they had the majority, and even in some instances where they were in the minority, the gag-law was brutishly enforced by mob suasion. Wherever they had the power to carry forward their designs in the Border Slave States, they were to denounce, in the bitterest terms, every man who would not work in concert with them. Men, whether natives of North or South, who opposed them, were to be dealt with as traitors. I saw a man ordered to leave a little town on the Kentucky shore, in half an hour's time, or remain and be hung, although he had been born and reared in the place.

In short, all the "coercive" appliances were to be used in Border States which had been so successful in the seceded States. But one very serious obstacle in the path of their progress was the strong and decided stand which some of the ablest and most influential of their own statesmen were taking in favor of the Union. Such men as Prentice, Harney, Guthrie, Dixon, Brownlow, Johnson, Nelson, and others of that class, stood greatly in their way. These were men to be feared far more than Northern foes, for their talents, and influence in the South, being commensurate with their patriotism, their blows at the snake of secession were powerful and effective. All hail to those patriotic giants who, even yet, with their love of country undimmed by the sulphurous smoke of the despotic hell by which they are surrounded on every hand, dare to unsheath their claymores and wield them in defense of that government to which they have ever stood devoted.

In order to the rapid propulsion of the secession car, such men as the aforementioned were either to be persuaded off the track, or run over. In other words, if it was found impossible to win them over to secession, they were to be made way with. In castle numerous plans were proposed to effect these designs. Brownlow and Johnson they did not hope to convert to their faith; consequently they were to have their "lights put out." But it was thought that possibly, by getting up a strong outside pressure, such as Prentice and Guthrie might be induced to recant. In fact, there were scores of Knights who, notwithstanding their new-born zeal in the cause of the devil, still loved Prentice. He had been their great guide when they were old Whigs; he had, for many years, led them in his own channel of political philosophy; he had, from their earliest recollections, invigorated them with his wit and inspired them with his poetry. In short, he had been the monarch of their souls, the idol of their affections; and it was no ordinary punishment to them to be forced to part with him now. They were, therefore, willing to extend to him more than ordinary lenity, sincerely hoping that in time he would see the "error of his ways," and repent in "sack cloth and ashes." They also presumed that Prentice, once fairly on the side of disunion, and Kentucky was out in a hurry. But for others, for whom they lacked the affection they bore Prentice, and who, they apprehended, could never, by any influence, be induced to desert the old ship, they had in store a vigorous treatment.

Various plans were proposed in castle to get what were termed the hard-shells out of the way. Some of them were to be insulted, and, by that means, drawn into a fight, which was to terminate in their murder. Others were to be poisoned, or assassinated. No act was to be considered criminal which had for its object the destruction of "Abolitionists." I heard one man say in Kentucky, that he could cut Arch Dixon's throat with more pleasure than he could eat his dinner when hungry. At the time I left the latter-named state, I fully expected, from what I had seen and heard in castle and out, that several of her best statesmen would have been foully dealt with ere this. They were, however, put on their guard, to my knowledge, and that, together with the great reaction which has taken place in many parts of Kentucky, has, doubtless, prevented the commission of some of the blackest crimes ever recorded.

The extent to which dark and villainous intriguery is being practiced by the Knights of the Golden Circle, or, as they should be termed, The Imps of Hell, at this time, has rarely ever been equaled in the annals of highway robbery. The very manner in which they make proselytes is in itself more damnable than anything which even that old serpent, the devil, has ever invented. For instance, a man comes into town from the farming districts. He is immediately beset on all sides, and questioned respecting his politics, etc., in the following manner:

"Sir, are you a Southern Rights' man?"; "Well, yes, I believe I go in for the rights of the South." "Well, there are one or two gentlemen up here at the corner, Mr. __ and Dr. __, who desire to see you a few minutes. Will you be kind enough to go with us?" "Certainly." They proceed to the "corner" spoken of, when the "gentlemen" alluded to come forward, take the farmer by the hand, greeting him very warmly, and ask him if he would not like to co-operate with them in a plan to defend the "homes and firesides" of himself and neighbors against "Yankee invasion." "Why, are they going to invade us?" "Yes, certainly. We have it, upon reliable authority, that several hundred of the d___d Hoosiers are within a few hours' march of this place."

By this time the old man's eyes begin to stand out so plumply from their orbits, that in passing too near a brush fence there would be danger of him losing them; and with his jugulars protruding like ropes from either side of his neck, and his mouth thrown wide open, he fairly belches out the indignant interrogatory:

"What Hoosiers?" "Why, some of those Abolition Hoosiers from Pike, and Posey, and Gibson counties, with a large number from the Yankee portion of the state up about the lakes. You know those Abolitionists in Pike, who have always been in the habit of hiding our niggers when they ran up about Petersburg, don't you?" "Ye-es, I have often heard of them." "Well, they are at the head of the gang." "Well, I want it distinctly understood that I am in all over for any plan intended to check or punish them."

The old gentleman is now asked to take a glass of Bourbon—a request with which every Kentuckian willingly complies—and go "upstairs" with them. On arriving "upstairs" he meets several, perhaps a couple of dozen, of the "chivalry," by whom he is surrounded and warmly welcomed. He is now led into an ante-room and requested to be seated until castle is opened. Castle being opened, fifteen—if they have that number present—of the Knights proceed to the ante-room, form a crescent-shaped circle, from the center of which the captain and lieutenant step forward a little in front, when the old gentleman is led by the conductor in front, facing the aforementioned officers, and asked, by the chief Knight; if "he has any objection to entering an Order which, while it will not interfere with his religious sentiments nor political views, has for its main object the maintenance of Southern rights and the protection of Southern homes." He replies in the negative. He is then asked if he is willing to bind himself in an oath to aid and assist them in the furtherance of these objects. He answers in the affirmative. He has now passed what is termed the first of the "preliminary degrees," and is welcomed to the circle by a general shake-hands. The officers and the circle retire, while some one of the faithful remains outside to talk to him of the grandeur, the beauties, and the sublime and holy objects of the Order.

Presently a rap is heard at the door of the ante-chamber, and the question is asked by the guard: "Who comes?" To which the lieutenant replies: "The friends of Southern rights, to welcome a brother." The door is then opened, and the circle again appears, the lieutenant bearing in his left hand a large crescent with fifteen stars set in its sides. Old gentleman is again brought up facing the captain and lieutenant, who are stationed in the front of the circle as before. The chief now enters into a somewhat elaborate explanation of the reasons why they conduct the proceedings of the Order in a secret manner; among other things, telling the candidate that such a manner of proceeding is necessary to concert and unity, which are the two first indispensables to success; and also that such a course is calculated to promote a fraternal and brotherly feeling among them; that the experience of the world has taught us that secret organizations are far more effective than public ones, the prejudice of many good people to the contrary notwithstanding.

These explanations having been made, candidate is asked if he is now willing to take an oath that he will never reveal anything he may see or hear during his initiation. He replies in the affirmative. The oath is now administered; and being further sworn to stand devoted to the cause and fortune of the South, he is considered through the second of the "preliminary" degrees. Circle with officers retire, the requisite preparations are made in the arrangement of symbols, etc., and castle is ready to receive candidate into the hall. At the proper signal he is led by conductor from the ante-chamber into castle, where he is again met by the circle, as in the last-named instance. Candidate is now to swear, in the presence of "God and these witnesses," (it should be in the presence of the devil and his imps,) that he "will aid and assist, to the extent of his ability, in promoting a permanent separation of all the Southern from the Northern States," and that he will, "both individually, and in concert with the brethren composing this Order, use his utmost efforts to ferret out, punish, and expel from Southern borders, all who, either directly or indirectly, favor the enemies of Southern rights."

Having given his assent to this, he is considered through the third and last of the "preliminary" degrees. Candidate is again conducted to ante-chamber, when castle makes full preparations for receiving him into Outer Temple. These having been effected, initiate is again led into the hall, and received into the embrace of the circle as before. Circle now encloses him by forming a complete ring, when the chief announces to him, in the most solemn and dignified manner, that "he is now a Knight of the Golden Circle." This is positively the first time he hears his name, and, in some instances, it makes him, as the Hoosiers say, "look wild." He is now sworn to regard his duty to his state and his state authorities, and his home and domestic interests as "paramount to his duty to the United States Constitution and all other human enactments." The password, which is changed every three months, or oftener, if it is necessary to prevent impositions, is then given him, together with the signs of the Order, and he is, in all respects, a member of the Outer Temple of the Castle of the Knights of the Golden Circle.

It will be observed that some insignificant changes have been made in the ritual within the last few months, by comparing the foregoing initiation with what has been said, in previous pages, of the form of receiving members one year or less ago. Just here I will remark that with the K.G.C. the ritual is by no means as permanent or unalterable as that of most other secret orders; and, in fact, nearly every castle is in the habit of modifying this instrument to suit the "peculiar" demands of the immediate locality in which it is intended to be used. For instance, in Kentucky and other Border States, in latter days, the various initiatory steps to the Inner Temple are much more gradual and conservative than they are in the Cotton States; and, in many cases, where it is known that the candidate is a more than usually moral man, and somewhat sensitive respecting oaths, the chief has the privilege of laying aside the ritual for the most part, and tolling the applicant in on his own hook.

But the supposed case just cited unfolds the general plan, and it will be seen that the most flagrant misrepresentations, and the most unscrupulous lying are resorted to for the purpose of making additions. An honestly disposed man is picked up in the street, and is hardly aware of it before he has taken the most binding oaths to violate the constitution of his country, trample the United States laws under his feet, and assist, with his whole power, in the carrying out of the most treasonable and diabolical crimes against the government and its supporters. So far as the government and formal regulations of the castles are concerned, they are of very little importance within themselves. It is the outside designs of the Order at this time, and the various plans adopted, from time to time, to prosecute them, that should receive most attention, inasmuch as they threaten not only the subsequent ruin and destruction of the American Republic, but menace the happiness and well-being of every neighborhood and family north of Mason and Dixon's line, especially those of the western Border States.

I will now proceed to give a systematic exposition of these designs, and their modes of prosecution, as far as I was able to obtain a direct knowledge of them up to the time I left the South, immediately after the fall of Sumter. In the first place, in order to drag the Border Slave States out of the Union, it is determined upon to either "coerce" the State Legislatures into the calling of conventions for the passage of secession ordinances, or call one themselves, through the Governor or otherwise. In the second place, in the election of delegates to such conventions they are bound to have their own kind of men chosen by the use of the following appliances:

First, Large numbers of Knights from adjoining states are to be imported, armed, and prepared for any emergency. These are to attend the elections, and, if they cannot succeed in rating their own illegal votes, are to stand around the polls, and by curses, threats, and even violence, if necessary, force weak-spined Union men to vote the Secession ticket. Second, Knights of the Inner Temple are, if possible, to be chosen as tellers and clerks of the various precincts at the day of election. Third, Between the time of the announcement and the holding of said election, all, or at least as many as possible of those who are known to be staunch, immovable Union men, are to be driven out of their state, detained from the election, either by stratagem or force, or made way with. Nothing but the over-awing influence of vastly superior numbers of resolute Union men, or the presence of United States soldiery, can prevent the carrying out of this part of the programme. After the submission of the ordinance to the popular vote by the convention, the same means are to be used in furtherance of its adoption as those applied in the previous election.

In the second place, after they have succeeded in getting out of the Union they intend having committees, to be called "Knights' Safety Guards" appointed, to watch every man of whom they have the least doubt and whether native of North or South, if any hold can be gained upon him, he is to be dealt with in any way the "Guards" see proper. They need not bring such person before the proper authorities for a formal trial, but may barrel him up and throw him into a river, tar and feather him, and send him North, shoot, hang, or deal with him otherwise, as their "judgments" may dictate.

Thirdly, guerrilla parties are to be formed, both to harass Northern troops on their passage through their sections, and to make devastating forays upon the North. These are called, in castle, "Knights Gallant." Their mission is where ever they wish to go, and their license to take what they can, and do what they please, except to injure or violate females or little children. "Knights Gallant" are sworn to protect female virtue ad children's lives, even at the peril of their own. By the "Knights Gallant" provisions are to be secured from Southwestern States, in case of a scarcity in the South, for the Southern army. All the property or money they can obtain in the course of their perambulations is to be considered as Southern wealth. When Southern armies desire to march Northward, the services of the K.G. are to be secured as guides and scouts. A continual correspondence is to be kept up with the known and tried Knights of the North, so as to assist the K.G., either in making forays or conducting forces; to secure such knowledge of those points where provisions, stores, prizes, etc., may be taken with most ease, as was necessary, and also to ascertain by what routes such provisions and stores can be most easily conveyed to Southern borders.

Fourthly, the true and faithful members of the Order living in the Northern States are to play the hypocrite on a most extensive scale, by making loud and enthusiastic professions of loyalty to the government, while, in the mean time, they are to act as spies, communicating to the nearest castles the various movements of Northern troops, and the most accessible routes of march and points of attack for Southern forces.

Fifthly, influential members in the North are to be induced, if possible, to raise companies of militia under the requisition of President Lincoln, secure their arms and equipment, and then turn them over to the "Confederate" service; such companies being composed of men who are known to be true friends of the South. Just here I will drop a hint to the friends of American freedom. No man in the North who expressed sympathy with the South, or who violently opposed the movements of the Government, until the overwhelming force of public opinion drove him into the Union ranks, should be trusted with any patriotic duty, or allowed to command even a corporal's guard of men, until he has furnished the most reliable evidence of loyalty; and, in many instances, where there is good reason to presume, from a man's past acts, that his feelings are strongly Southern, or that he is not fully trustworthy, even though from the first that he heard of the President's Proclamation calling for troops he has made strong Union professions, it is highly important to keep a close watch over him, and nee that he gains no advantage.

I have, as yet, heard of but one place in any Northern state where any portion of that part of the Knights' programme under head fifth has been commenced, and that was in Martin County, Indiana. The man who vas at the head of the movement is named Drongoole. (The Cincinnati papers call him, improperly, Dromgoole.) This imp, whom devil will, doubtless, be ashamed to own, but who, in all probability, will soon resemble the famous violinist, Paginini. in one respect, viz.: his capacity to play on "one string," wrote to the Corresponding Secretary of the Nashville Castle, where he holds his membership, informing said secretary, that he could easily raise a regiment of one thousand men in Martin County to fight for the South. The secretary replied, advising him to immediately communicate the glad tidings to Jeff Davis, as the case would be readily attended to. Drongoole did write Jeff, giving him the "most satisfactory" evidences of his ability to muster the aforementioned regiment into the "Confederate service." Jeff replied, commending his "true and faithful" servant very highly for his "noble and patriotic" endeavors; but, for one time in his life, at least, seemed to have been remiss in the exercise of those "far-seeing" qualities for which his confederates give him so much credit, in enclosing his letter in an envelope bearing the Confederate flag on its exterior.

The recognition of this emblem by the postmaster at Dover Hill resulted in the opening and reading of Jeff's epistle, the contents of which soon becoming public, so highly excited the "Confederate" patriotism of the citizens of Martin county, that they could not refrain from manifesting their otherwise inexpressible approbation of the noble Drongoole and his course, by means of fervent, patriotic kicks and blows, so well laid on that he came near yielding up the ghost. Drongoole, whether from the advice of his physician or not, concluded that it would be well for him to travel South a little for his health, before undertaking to lead a regiment of Martin county Hoosiers against "Lincoln's army."

But if he had not been detected in good time he would have effected much harm. There are others, who are far less suspected than he was, of whom we may expect more real harm. While passing through Sullivan county, on my way to Indianapolis, a certain gentleman residing in that county, told me, privately, that he intended raising a company of one hundred men to fight for Jeff Davis; at least he would make the attempt. He also told me that if Davis was to march an army through his neighborhood on that very day, devastating the country as he went, that he, with many more, would join him. This gentleman was not a member of the K.G.C., but had been under the special influence and teachings of one who lived in his immediate neighborhood; he had not yet caught the signal of silence, and was, therefore, openly expressing his imbibed sentiments.

I talked with him shortly afterward, and he had, to all appearance, undergone a most wonderful and miraculous conversion. He was now a strong Union man, and a bitter enemy to Jeff Davis. This apparently remarkable change I could easily account for, when I had seen him, in the interim between the first and last conversations, talking with a certain individual who recognized the sign of the crescent. By some close maneuverings, I found that the last-mentioned individual had several proselytites in and around his neighborhood, and that it was the intention of these to form a "Home Guard" to act in "emergencies." They could not, however, be induced, by a certain gentleman who was then enrolling a company for Government service, to go from home to fight the battles of the country, although several of them were stout young men, foot-loose, and unemployed.

Mysteries of this kind require some explanation, and wherever they appear, should undergo the closest scrutiny. A close discerner of men and things can generally detect treachery, where it exists, in a man's motions and the expressions of his eye, whatever his lip pretensions may be; and in times such as these it is well, yea, even highly important, to exercise a most vigilant watch over all a man's little actions, where there is any just foundation for doubt.

But to the sixth plan in the secession programme of to-day. This plan is to be carried out by sending such of the patriotic Confederate ladies as will come, into the Northern States, for the purpose of acting as corresponding agents and spies. While making pretensions that they are Southern refugees, and that they have been scared away from their homes by fears of negro insurrections, or that they are come North to improve their health and enjoy tranquility of mind, they are to be constantly on the alert for news respecting the designs of the Government or the movements of armies, and transmit the same to the proper authorities in the South. Further, they are to act, wherever it is possible to do so, in the capacity of beasts of burden, (I do not use this term disparagingly) to convey contrabrand articles to such agents or places as shall insure their safe delivery to the secessionists. This may seem highly improbable to many, but it should be remembered by all that a woman is decidedly a great institution, and that by means of such efficient and extensive modern facilities as crinoline, etc., she could effect considerable in the way of exporting small arms, percussion caps, etc.

In the present troubled condition of the country, the good citizens of the loyal states will experience no little difficulty in determining who is a spy and who is not, especially in the case of ladies; because there will be many fleeing to the North as real refugees; many who, in consequence of the miserable days and fearful, sleepless nights they have spent during long and gloomy weeks, will sacrifice home, with all its former endearments, for the sake of finding a place where they may rest their wearied frames and compose their excited minds. But while it is true that many truly noble and excellent women will seek the North for these purposes, and these alone, it is also true that some, at least, will come for far different purposes. It will, therefore, be necessary to be hospitable, while we are prudent; kind and sympathetic, while we are vigilant and watchful.

Finally, it is the intention of the K.G.C. to send incendiary agents—men who scruple at nothing, care for nothing—for the purpose of committing raids, destroying property, etc., wherever such service can in any way facilitate the cause of secession. For instance: When an army, or any considerable number of troops, are rendezvousing at a determinate point on the border, and it is necessary, in order to the successful prosecution of any Confederate design, to have them removed, these incendiary agents are to set fire to some town or city near by, in order that the Government forces may be attracted from their post. Thus it was planned to burn New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati, just after the battle at Fort Sumter, to the end that the United States troops might be called away from Washington, and its capture thereby rendered easy. None but Knights of the Inner Temple are entrusted with this kind of work. They must be, at the same time, shrewd, active, bold, and faithful. Wonderful to say, some of the very agents who were to burn the cities just referred to, were not only residents of the places they intended to burn, but actually owned property in them. This, however, was to be "indemnified" by the Cotton Confederacy.

Nothing but the unanimous uprising of the loyal masses of the North, the exercise of an unexpected vigilance, and an unceasing watch-care, saved those cities. The great trouble here, as in the case of the female spies, is to know whom to watch, inasmuch as all of them make loud professions of loyalty so soon as they set foot on Northern soil. The true policy is to watch everybody with whom we are unacquainted, until we have the most satisfactory evidence that they are true.

In point of close scrutiny and vigilance, we of the North are far behind the Southern people. No sooner does a stranger arrive at any Southern town or depot, than he is beset on all sides by "Knights' Safety Guards," or, as they are called by the outsiders, Vigilance Committees, who proceed immediately to quiz him in the most abrupt and complicated manner. He is examined and cross-examined in various ways, until the "chivalry" are thoroughly satisfied; he must reply to their questions in the most direct and unequivocal manner; he is allowed no room for dodges or evasions, but must come right up to the mark; and even after he has answered all questions in the most explicit and satisfactory manner, is still an object of suspicion and scrutiny.

We, on the other hand, are exceedingly mild in our demands, careless, indifferent, and lenient; take it for granted that a man is loyal merely because he says he is, and frequently allow him even to talk treason, thinking that it don't amount to much, inasmuch as the Union sentiment is "so strong." I have heard men say things in Terre Haute and Indianapolis, in public places, for which, if we were half so vigilant as the K.G.C. in the South, we would hang them to the nearest tree we could find. Now, I do not propose that we should adopt the brutal, merciless system of the Knights, but that, in view of the real demands of the country, and the safety of our neighborhoods, families, and persons, we should see to it, and see to it well, that no man, whether neighbor or stranger, has an opportunity to do or say any harm.